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Why Teachers Need to Become Leaders

If more educators develop leadership skills, it might be the best reform solution we could hope for.

There are plenty of business books written about leadership, but not every employee (or CEO) is a great leader. Likewise, although every teacher stands in front of a classroom of students, they're not all leaders in their schools. But they should be. With their newly released Teacher Leader Model Standards, the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium wants to jump-start the conversation about "the knowledge, skills, and competencies that teachers need to assume leadership roles in their schools, districts, and the profession."


Since 2008 the consortium's been researching which habits make a teacher a leader. They found seven, which, not surprisingly, also lead to increases in student achievement. On the list are things like "Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning" and "Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning." Those sound a little wonky but in practice, it's not that complicated. For example, a teacher who takes the initiative to get all her colleagues together to come up with a strategic plan to help kids on the verge of dropping out has made the switch to being a leader.

The teacher leader model is already evident at some of the highest performing schools and in the growing "school without a principal" movement where teachers collectively run the entire campus. It makes sense to encourage leadership habits because these days teachers are being held accountable for pretty much everything in education. It's frustrating for educators to have to own top-down reforms that they had no part in creating and know are wrong for kids. But if teachers are able to shift the perception that they are "just" teachers—with administrators or district officials calling the shots—to one where they are seen as the real experts and leaders in the field, no one else can co-opt that role. And maybe reforms that are actually grounded in sound education practice and right for students can start to take shape.

photo via ctl.vcu.edu

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